Whatever you do, be sure and put this blog away somewhere for safe keeping and bring it back on August 1.
That way, when I say “I told you so”, there won’t be any arguments.
Back in January, I was one of those rare voices in Baltimore that told anyone willing to listen that the Orioles were going to be better in 2011. People thought I was nuts, especially since there’s a portion of the audience out there – nitwits, if you will – who think I “hate the team” and, therefore, am self-precluded from saying anything positive about the Birds.
Phooey on that.
I’ve been saying since January this was going to be a .500 team, at least, providing that they don’t disassemble the key parts in late July. And that if they hit above their capabilities, the Orioles might just play a meaningful game in September for the first time since 1997.
OK, I’ve seen them play 40 games in 2011. We’re basically to the 1/4 pole of this marathon…and even after Monday’s collapse in Boston, the Birds are still hovering right around .500 at 19-21. (Note from the author: In an earlier edition of this, posted roughly around 9:30 pm on Monday, I had given the Orioles a 20-20 record since they were up 6-0 at Fenway Park over the Red Sox. We all know what happened there…)
I was right.
They ARE better.
They ARE going to finish .500, if this current roster plays out the 162-game schedule.
And I think there’s a very good chance a guy like Brian Roberts or Nick Markakis will put on his uniform at some point in September and say to himself just before the first pitch, “Damn…this is a pretty important game tonight.”
None of this should really be a surprise, because this relative period of good fortune the O’s are experiencing is a direct result of the front office actually TRYING to improve the team in the off-season. They upgraded at shortsop with the trade and pay raise for J.J. Hardy and the overall team salary is up nearly $20 million from 2010. Strange things happen when you spend money on quality.
If you’re still not a believer, that’s OK.
You’re just not paying close enough attention, that’s all.
I’m not saying the Orioles are going to win the American League East. That would take a complete reversal of fortune by the three teams who have occupied the top stop in the East since Clinton was the President – namely, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays.
But I also think August 15 is going to roll around and ONE of those teams will be 15 games over .500 and comfortably in front (who? probably the Red Sox) and the other four teams in the East will all be within 5 games of one another.
This year, 88 wins in the American League might just be enough to gain a Wild Card berth. And that means – if I’m right – that someone will need to go 88-74.
That’s 14 games over .500.
And who’s going to go 88-74 in the AL? Well, the only team in the West that MIGHT do that would be Texas. The Angels sure won’t. The A’s can’t score enough runs to go 88-74. Seattle might not win 68, let alone 88. In the Central, it could be the Tigers. My guess is the Indians will come back to earth at some point and fight hard just to win half their games when it’s all said and done. The White Sox and Twins might not combine for 88 the way they’re both playing. Kansas City will be in the 75 win area, I’m guessing. That leaves it up to the AL East to produce the 88-game wild card winner.
I’m telling you, 88 wins gets a team in the playoffs this season.
And if the Orioles can stay around .500 or just a few games OVER .500 by the end of August, that means they’ll need the run-of-runs in September to finish 14 games over .500. But that would surely be better than being out of it in mid-June which has been the team’s standard operating procedure for much of the last decade and then some.
In case you haven’t noticed, the AL East has a collection of very-good-to-good-to-might-be-good teams. In other words, on any given night – or any given series – those five teams can beat one another. The Orioles just went to Tampa Bay and won 2 of 3 after losing 3 straight to the Rays in Baltimore last weekend. Boston just went to New York and won three. Toronto has the game’s best power hitter and an offense capable of scoring runs in bunches.
The AL East is really freakin’ good, in case you’ve been in a cave for the last five years.
And finally, just maybe, the Orioles aren’t everyone else’s leftovers.
The pitching is the pitching. None of their young arms are going to forget how to pitch between now and September. If you’ve watched Britton, Arrieta and Guthrie this season, you know they give the Orioles a puncher’s chance every night. When Brian Matusz returns shortly, assuming he’s healthy, I can’t imagine he’ll be a liability out there. Pitching, pitching and more pitching. Ask the Atlanta Braves of the 1990′s if that theme did them any good.
The bullpen is hit-or-miss, but honestly — most bullpens sort of are that way. The guys in the bullpen are there because they’ve either tried starting and they weren’t good enough or they aren’t good enough to be starters on their current team. Much will be made of Monday’s blow-up in Boston, but that loss was just as much fire-started with shoddy defense as it was poor relief pitching. I will say this, though, and I’ll say it because once again (hee hee) I was right. Kevin Gregg puts too many guys on base to be a closer. I said and wrote that last winter when they picked him up. Closers can’t put guys on base if they want to be ultra-successful. The only problem with the Birds is that Koji can’t pitch 3 times in 5 days or he pulls a hamstring. On the whole, though, the Orioles pitching is sound enough to help the team win at least half their games if not more.
Now, as much as pitching helps establish you as a threat to win every night, you have to employ hitters who drive in runs. That hasn’t been the Orioles’ forte this year, but as I pointed out in mid-to-late April during their 8-game swoon, they’re going to get hot with the bats at some point and win a bunch of games BECAUSE of their hitting, not in spite of it.
July will roll around and the Orioles will be at or around .500 and then Andy MacPhail and Peter Angelos will be put to the ultimate test. Will they go out and trade for another bat or two to help keep them competitive in August and September, or will they use the old, worn out adage of “we’re not going to win this year anyway” and pass on the chance to improve their team for the stretch run?
That remains to be seen, of course, although I’d bet more times than not that MacPhail passes on immediate improvement and just keeps on keeping-on for the future.
I hope I’m wrong.
One thing for sure that I’m NOT wrong on is this: The Orioles are going to play .500 baseball this season and if their offense perks up more than “just a little bit”, the Birds might threaten the high 80′s territory. And that, with all the AL East teams beating up on one another, could very well put Buck Showalter’s team in rare air around here come September. Games might actually matter after Labor Day in 2011.
You’ll thank me for this in August.
For now, keep it handy and remind me in about 60 games what I said back on May 16.
I’ll be the guy waving the “told you so” flag.
And I won’t be hard to find.